When trying to maximize your time in the gym, it’s common to superset movements that target opposing muscle groups. But what about training muscle groups like the back and biceps that are both considered pulling muscles? Can they be trained on the same day?
You can train the back and biceps on the same day, and there are several benefits to doing so. I recommend doing at least two movements per muscle group per workout and doing your back exercises first. If possible, I also recommend training the back and biceps at least twice a week.
In this article, I’ll discuss the benefits of training the back and biceps on the same day and offer recommendations on how many exercises, sets, and reps to do in your back and bicep workouts. I’ll also review the anatomy of the back and biceps to help you understand how to effectively target each muscle group.
Of course, you’ll need to train more than just the back and biceps if you want to strengthen and improve the physique of your whole body. If you need guidance on how to create an effective full-body workout routine, the Fitbod app can help you build a customized program.
Benefits of Training Back And Biceps On The Same Day
Below are three key benefits of training the back and biceps on the same day.
1. It Saves Time
If you’re used to training back and arms on separate days, training back and biceps on the same day can save you an additional day at the gym. You’ll then either have an additional rest day during the week or will have more time to dedicate to training other muscle groups.
Plus, since the back and biceps serve similar purposes in the body — they are both used to pull objects towards you or pull your body upward — you don’t have to spend as much time warming up. You can move through your sets more quickly and get your workout done in less time.
2. You Can Work Your Biceps More
When you train back and biceps on the same day, you get more bang for your buck when it comes to working the biceps. The biceps are involved to some extent in many back exercises, but they can be a hard muscle group to grow because they are much smaller.
Training back and biceps together means you can work your biceps more without having to add a ton of isolation exercises to your workout.
3. It Adds More Variety
There aren’t many ways to train your biceps other than to do single-joint elbow flexion exercises, which can get boring. Training the back and biceps on the same day gives you more variety since you have more exercise options to choose from.
You can also target the biceps more by simply switching your grip on many pulling exercises — for example, doing barbell rows with an underhand grip instead of an overhand grip — which also enables you to add more variety to your back training.
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Muscles Used On Back And Bicep Day
Before we discuss the important components of a back and bicep workout, it’s helpful to understand the anatomy of all of the back muscles as well as the bicep. Knowing how they function and how to best target them can help you put together an effective training regimen.
Anatomy of the Back
The back is made up of several different muscle groups, some of which help perform major functions in the body and others that simply act as stabilizers to support the larger muscle groups.
When people talk about training the back, they’re mostly referring to the superficial back muscles:
- Latissimus dorsi – a wide, thick muscle that runs along your lower and mid-back whose primary function is to move the arms (specifically to pull them closer to your midline) and assist in bending the spine
- Rhomboids – two small muscles in the middle of the upper back whose role is to raise, retract, and rotate your shoulder blades and keep them attached to your rib cage
- Trapezius – two triangular-shaped muscles that run over the back of the neck and shoulders whose primary function is to help move the head and shoulders and control the scapula (shoulder blades) during actions like throwing or lifting your arm
- Levator scapulae – a small muscle at the back of the neck whose job is to help you lift your scapula
While each of these muscles plays a role in most back exercises, there are ways to target each of them more effectively.
How to Work the Lats
Because the lats’ function is to bring the arms closer to the body, the most effective way to target them is by doing exercises in which your arms are extended and you have to pull them to your chest or torso. This includes lat pulldowns, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, pull-ups, and inverted rows.
When talking about training the lats, it’s important not to neglect the teres major. The teres major assists the lats in moving and rotating the upper arm. Strengthening this muscle enables the lats to function properly and can help improve your posture. Most exercises that target the lats also work the teres major.
How to Work the Rhomboids
The rhomboids are difficult to add size to, but it’s still necessary to train them. Strong rhomboids give you better posture and allow the shoulder blades to move properly, which helps prevent injury. Any exercise in which you squeeze your shoulder blades together, such as seated cable rows, is effective at targeting the rhomboids.
When aiming to strengthen the rhomboids, it’s also important to choose weights that enable you to achieve a full range of motion and really squeeze your shoulder blades together. If you can’t pull the weight close enough to your body, your rhomboids won’t be fully engaged.
How to Work the Traps
Barbell and dumbbell shrugs are some of the easiest ways to isolate the traps because they require you to move your shoulders up and down. Upright rows are another excellent exercise for targeting the traps.
However, almost every row variation works the traps because they require you to squeeze your shoulder blades, an important role of the trap muscles.
How to Work the Levator Scapulae
Like the rhomboids, the levator scapulae isn’t a muscle you can easily grow. But it’s still important to train it because it helps stabilize and prevent injuries to the shoulder blade region.
Many of the same movements that work the traps, which all require upward movement of the shoulders and shoulder blades, work the levator scapulae as well.
Anatomy of the Biceps
The bicep muscle is made up of two heads: a long head and a short head. Together, their primary role is to bend the elbow and assist in rotating the forearm up or down.
The long head lies on top of the short head and is located towards the outside and top of the arm. It is what gives your biceps a rounded peak when you flex your arms. The short head is located closer to your inner arm.
How to Work the Long and Short Bicep Heads
You can’t completely isolate either head of the bicep, but there are ways to train each one more effectively.
For example, exercises like preacher curls where your arms are in front of the body will target more of the short head. This is because the long head is in a less optimal position and isn’t under as much tension when your arms are slightly in front of you.
On the other hand, exercises like incline dumbbell curls place your arms slightly behind you, which stretches the long head of the bicep. It thus takes more of the load and is activated to a greater extent.
You can also target more of the long head with curl variations with a narrow grip, such as close-grip EZ bar curls, or those with a neutral grip (palms facing each other), such as hammer curls.
When talking about the biceps, it’s also important to consider the brachialis. The brachialis isn’t exactly part of the bicep but lies underneath it and plays an important role in elbow flexion (the bending of your arm).
Strengthening the brachialis makes it possible for you to be able to use more weight with your bicep exercises and can also help your biceps “pop” more when you flex your arms. Furthermore, a strong brachialis can make your pulling exercises easier to execute.
Exercises in which your hands are pronated (palms facing away from you) are best for targeting the brachialis. These include dumbbell or barbell curls with a pronated grip, Zottman curls (in which you start with your hands in an underhand position and then rotate them to an overhand position at the top of the movement), and cross-body dumbbell curls.
Related Article: Outer Bicep Workouts: 5 Exercise Examples
How to Structure a Back and Bicep Workout
Choosing the most effective exercises, training in the proper set and rep ranges, and knowing how to progress over time are all necessary components of putting together a back and bicep workout. Exercise order and training frequency are important to consider as well.
Types of Exercises
There are numerous exercises that work both the back and biceps, and it can be difficult to determine which ones are best. Which exercises you choose will depend on your goals and what equipment you have access to.
It’s also important to choose exercises that enable you to work the muscles in different ways so you can develop a well-rounded physique and avoid underdeveloping certain areas of your back or biceps.
For the back, you should choose a variety of horizontal pulling movements (i.e. barbell rows) and vertical pulling movements (i.e. pull-ups). Horizontal movements add thickness to the back while vertical movements add width.
Adding an equal combination of the two into your routine will not only help you strengthen multiple areas of the back but will also give your back a well-rounded appearance.
As well, not relying on too much of one type of pulling exercise can prevent overuse of other muscle groups such as the shoulders, which can become sore or overly fatigued when doing a lot of vertical pulling movements.
Related Article: The Ultimate V-Shaped Body Workout: 3 Workouts Explained
For biceps, you should choose a variety of exercises that work both the long head and short head as well as the brachialis. This means including a combination of regular dumbbell curls, hammer curls, spider curls, preacher curls, incline dumbbell curls, and crossover curls.
How Many Exercises
Research suggests that doing multiple exercises per muscle group produces more hypertrophy. But when training multiple muscle groups together, especially ones like the back and biceps, you want to find a balance between doing enough exercises to make your training effective without accumulating a significant amount of fatigue.
I recommend at least 2 exercises per muscle group per workout. By splitting up your exercises this way, you can do at least one horizontal and one vertical pulling movement and at least one exercise that targets each of the two bicep heads per workout.
Because the back is made up of more muscles than the biceps, you may also wish to do more back exercises than bicep exercises. As I’ve discussed, many back exercises work the biceps as well, so doing a large number of isolation bicep exercises may not be necessary.
Related Article: How Many Exercises Make an Effective Arm Workout?
In general, you’ll want to do the exercises that work the muscles you want to prioritize earlier in your workout so you’re not compromising your ability to perform them safely as you get fatigued.
It’s also important to put the exercises that work larger muscle groups near the beginning of your workout. This prevents you from tiring out the smaller muscles early in the routine and preventing them from being able to support the larger muscle groups.
For this reason, I recommend starting with the back muscles first. They are larger, and a lot of back exercises are compound movements, meaning they work multiple muscle groups at the same time. This makes them more fatiguing because they are more demanding on your central nervous system.
As well, many back exercises work the biceps to some extent. If you have to cut your workout short, you’ve at least done some bicep work even if you weren’t able to target them directly.
How Many Sets & Reps
Research suggests that doing at least 8 sets per week per muscle group is best for strength and hypertrophy. Depending on how you choose to break up your exercises, this will allow you to do 2-4 sets per muscle group in each workout, which research states is optimal for both strength and muscle gain.
It’s generally recommended to train in the 1-5 rep range for strength and 6-15+ rep range for hypertrophy. But it’s extremely rare that you’d want to find a 1 rep max for something like a bicep curl, so it’s best to train biceps in higher rep ranges.
As well, since the majority of exercises that directly work the biceps are isolation movements (meaning no other muscle groups play a role), you won’t be able to lift as much weight. Because of this, it makes more sense to train biceps with moderate or high reps.
When it comes to training your back, you also likely won’t ever find a 1RM for something like a barbell row. However, because a strong back is beneficial for other lifts and in daily life, there may be times when you want to do some back exercises in the lower rep ranges. Alternating between lower and moderate or high reps can help you add both size and strength to your back.
Should You Superset Your Back and Biceps?
Supersets refer to exercises that you do back-to-back with very little to no rest in between. You don’t have to superset your back and bicep exercises, but you definitely can if you’re short on time. Saving time is one of the biggest benefits of supersets since you don’t have as many rest periods.
However, you should be aware that supersetting exercises doesn’t necessarily provide any superior muscle-building benefits. Studies also suggest that there are no significant increases in energy expenditure during supersets.
So while you can superset back and bicep exercises to make your workouts more time-efficient, it may not be the most effective way to build muscle.
Related Article: The Best Bulking Back Workout: 8 Must-Do Exercises
How Long Should A Back & Bicep Workout Take
How long a back and bicep workout takes depends on how many exercises you do, how long you have to wait for equipment to become available, and how long you rest in between sets. It can also depend on whether you’re only doing back and biceps that day or if you’re also doing cardio or another workout after training those two muscle groups.
In general, I’d advise that a back and bicep workout should take no more than 45 minutes. If you superset your exercises, you may be able to get your workout done in even less time.
How To Progress Over Time
There are several different ways to progress your back and biceps exercises over time.
If you’re brand new to lifting weights, you may be able to add weight each week. But eventually, you’ll be unable to sustain that kind of progress.
It can also be difficult to add weight to movements like bicep curls each week if the dumbbells you have access to only increase in weight by 5lb increments. Instead of focusing on the amount of weight lifted, you’ll also have to work on progressing by adding more sets, more reps, or being able to do more of both with better form.
I recommend sticking with one weight until you can complete all of your prescribed reps in a set with good form. Let’s say you start with 95lb barbell rows and your program calls for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. When you first start, you may only be able to complete 8 reps in all 3 sets.
Instead of adding weight for your next workout, stick with the same weight until you can get all 12 reps with proper form. You can then increase the weight by 5-10lbs.
Another important consideration is progressing the level of difficulty of your chosen exercises. Pull-ups, for example, are difficult for many people to do, especially when they’re new to working out. If you can’t yet do a pull-up, you can work on regressions like scapular pull-ups or inverted rows until you can do a pull-up.
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Best Back And Bicep Workouts
How To Warm Up Your Back And Biceps?
Warming up for a back and bicep workout isn’t much different than warming up for any other upper body workout. I recommend starting off with some light activity for 5-10 minutes to get your blood flowing. The elliptical is a good option since you use both your arms and legs to power the machine.
From there, I suggest moving on to some dynamic stretches, mobility exercises, and movements that engage the upper body. Arm circles, shoulder dislocates, thoracic spine openers, and foam rolling the lats and upper back can all help prime your body for a back and bicep workout.
You can also use resistance bands for band pull aparts to activate the smaller muscles in the back and shoulders, which is especially important if you’re doing many pull-up variations.
Before you start your first exercise, you’ll also want to spend some time building up to the weight you plan on lifting. So if you’re going to do barbell rows with 100lbs, you may wish to follow a warm-up protocol like this:
- Empty barbell – 10 reps
- 65lbs – 8 reps
- 85lbs – 6 reps
The goal of this type of warmup isn’t to tire yourself out for your working sets but to prepare your body and central nervous system for lifting heavier weights.
Once you’re warmed up, you can begin your workout. Below are five back and bicep workout examples that you can choose from depending on what equipment you have access to.
1. Commercial Gym Back and Biceps Workout
One of the biggest benefits of working out in a commercial gym is having access to a vast array of equipment. The back and biceps workout below includes exercises that require a variety of equipment, which you should be able to find in most gyms.
- Weighted pull-ups – 3 x 8-10
- Seated cable rows – 4 x 10-12
- Wide-grip lat pulldowns – 4 x 10-12
- Preacher curl – 2 x 8-10
- Single-arm overhead cable curl – 2 x 10-12
2. Dumbbells Only
This is a good workout option for home gym owners or if the gym is crowded and you don’t want to wait for machines to become available.
- Single-arm bent-over row – 4 x 8-10
- Bentover reverse flies – 4 x 12-15
- 21’s bicep curls – 3-4 sets
- Concentration curls – 4 x 10 per arm
3. Resistance Band Back and Biceps Workout
This workout is ideal for travel or for when you don’t have time to go to the gym and don’t have a lot of equipment at home.
- Resistance band pulldowns – 4 x 15-20
- Resistance band bicep curls – 4 x 25
- Resistance band bent-over rows – 4 x 25-30
- Resistance band hammer curls – 4 x 25-30
Related Article: Can You Build Muscle With Resistance Bands? (Yes, Here’s How)
4. Back and Biceps Superset Workout
This workout is an excellent option for when you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym. You’ll do all sets in each superset, rest 2-3 minutes, and then move on to the next superset.
- Barbell rows – 3 x 6
- Chin-ups – 3 x 8
Rest 2-3 minutes after the chin-ups before repeating.
- Straight-arm lat pulldown – 3 x 10-12
- Alternating hammer curls – 3 x 10 per arm
Rest 2-3 minutes after the hammer curls before repeating.
- Dumbbell shrugs – 3 x 8
- Dumbbell curls – 3 x 10-12
Rest 2-3 minutes after the dumbbell curls before repeating.
5. Back and Bicep Workout to Combine With Other Workouts
If you know you’ll only have a limited number of days that you can get to the gym during a certain week, you can do this workout alongside another routine. As such, you’ll notice that there isn’t as much volume as in the other sample routines above.
- Pendlay rows – 3 x 6
- EZ bar curls – 3 x 12
- Chest-supported row – 2 x 8-10
- Spider curls – 2 x 10
If you’re looking for more back and bicep workouts or want ideas of other workouts you can pair with the programs above, check out the Fitbod app. You can create programs based on specific muscle groups you want to target and choose your daily routine based on the muscles that are best recovered from your previous workouts.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should You Train Your Back & Biceps?
I recommend training the back and biceps at least twice per week. This will enable you to do at least 8 sets per muscle group per week without having to spend a long time in the gym.
Do Back Exercises Help Biceps?
Yes, back exercises do help train the biceps. The back muscles and the biceps are both used in pulling movements. Even though most of the work is done by the back in such exercises, the biceps aid in elbow flexion as you pull weight towards you or pull your body up in a straight line.
What Should You Train First, Back or Biceps?
You should train back first. Because the biceps play a role in most back movements, tiring them out can impede your ability to safely perform your back exercises. As well, because back exercises indirectly work the biceps, training back first means you can still get some bicep work done if you’re short on time.
Training the back and biceps on the same day is an efficient way to maximize your time in the gym. Ideally, you’ll do at least 8 sets per muscle group per week and choose exercises that work all of the large back muscles and both heads of the biceps.
You should also do your back exercises first to avoid tiring out your biceps and preventing their ability to support your arms and back. And while supersetting your back and bicep workouts isn’t the most optimal way to develop strength or muscle size, it can help keep your workout short if you don’t have a lot of time.
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About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.